The Ayurvedic Diet: Eight Key Factors

You might have heard about eating for your Dosha, however, the Ayurvedic diet has another key aspect that few people know about – the eight crucial factors that can help you prepare the perfect Ayurvedic meal.

Ancient Ayurvedic text Charak Samhita describes ‘ahaar vidhi visheshayatana Ahaar Vidhi Visheshayata’ (ahaar – food, vidhi – method, visheshayatana – special aspects/dimensions).

In ancient times, qualified cooks kept these eight factors in their minds before cooking. They are –  

तत्र खल्विमान्यष्टावाहारविधिविशेषायतनानि भवन्ति; तद्यथा- प्रकृतिकरणसंयोगराशिदेशकालोपयोगसंस्थोपयोक्त्रष्टमानि (भवन्ति)||२१||

Eight special factors constitute the ideal method for food consumption.

They are:

  1. Prakrati (Natural Nutritious Qualities)
  2. Karan (Preparation)
  3. Sanyog (Combination)  
  4. Rashi (Quantity)
  5. Desh (Habitat)
  6. Kaal (Time)
  7. Upyogsanstha (Usage Directions)
  8. Upyokta (Consumer)

In this article, we are going to unpack each of these eight factors of an ayurvedic diet.

a table full of thai food

#1: Food Has An Intrinsic Nature (Prakriti)

Prakriti is the way a food substance reacts inside the body and the effects it produces.

This refers to how heavy or light a food is and therefore how long it takes to digest.

The term Prakriti means nature. This term is also used for body types. But the food that you eat also has a personality and a special effect on the body!

Ayurveda offers a unique concept of a balanced diet. It says that you must have all six tastes in your meal – sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, and astringent.

For example, Ayurveda says that you must avoid consuming cheese very frequently. Once a month or a fortnight is a good idea.

#2: Process Food Correctly (Karan)

Karan means ‘tool’. In the context of the Ayurvedic diet, Karan is the way you process our food. And it is extremely important.

On the other hand, you can try to avoid heating or cooking food in a microwave. The microwave heats up the food at a very fast rate which may destroy the natural nutrition.

For example, the Ayurvedic diet recommends slow cooking. So, ideally, solar cooking is a great option for Ayurveda enthusiasts. Slow cooking on low heat retains maximum nutrition.

an acai bowl on a wooden table

#3: Combine Foods Correctly (Sanyog) 

The word Sanyog means combination. One of the unique aspects of Ayurveda is the science of food combinations. According to this ancient healthcare system, two foods with different properties can produce a distinct health impact.

Thus, Ayurveda also defines extensive rules for viruddhahaar, or incompatible food combinations.

If you have food allergies, you can try avoiding the traditional wrong food combinations according to Ayurveda and it may help you a lot!

For example, according to Ayurveda, you should not consume ghee and honey mixed in equal quantity. This combination is toxic and may hinder the normal metabolism of the body.

#4: Don’t overeat (Rashi)

The quantity of food consumed is crucial for good health. Ayurved says that you must NEVER overeat, even if the food is healthy and well-cooked.

According to the ancient text, you should fill only one-third of your stomach with solid food. The rest one-third should be full of liquids. And the last one-third should be filled with air! This proportion of food items eases the stomach mixing movement.

At the same time, it ensures that you leave the dining table when your tummy is only 80% full and not bursting with food!

This habit also protects you from emotional eating and obesity.

an ayurvedic diet buffet

#5: Eat Local Food (Desh)

Ayurveda says that you should eat locally grown food. And this rule is important as the local vegetation shares the same seasonal cycle. Therefore, by the grace of mother nature, whatever grows near you is best for you.

Let us take the example of dates. According to Ayurveda, the dates produce a natural cooling effect on the body….and they grow in deserts! Nature understands our physiological needs and provides accordingly.

Another beautiful example is saffron. Saffron normally grows in a cold climate and it has a warming impact on the body!

No matter where you live, with Ayurveda you will never need exotic or imported produce. Let us eat what nature grows for us, and reduce unnecessary transport and pollution!

#6: Eat At The Correct Time (Kaal)

Time is an essential factor that affects our health. There are two aspects of time – the general impact that affects all living creatures, and avasthik, or conditional time. Let’s explore the two in relation to the Ayurvedic diet.

a plate of pad thai

Nityag Kaal (General Influence of Time)

Some effects of time are the same for all of us, for example, the daily solar light transition or the seasonal changes. The body must drive its metabolism to balance the impact of these time-bound events.

For example, Ayurveda says that the first phase of the day (after sunrise) and the first phase of the night are phases of Kapha dominance. Hence, this is the time when major respiratory or congestive disorders may worsen.

Therefore, you must avoid eating cold, oily, and heavy food early in the morning/evening.

Seasonal change is another important factor as it brings significant metabolic changes to the body.

For example, Ayurveda prohibits the use of yogurt during hot weather and summers. Yogurt is acidic and according to Ayurveda, it produces heat inside the body.

Ayurveda says that instead, you should consume yogurt during the cold climate or winter. It will help you warm up!

indian restaurant food

Avasthik Kaal (Conditional Impact of Time)

The conditional impact of time is another unique concept of Ayurveda It says that food should complement the body’s requirements during specific phases of health conditions.

For example, according to the Ayurvedic diet, if you have a fever, you should refrain from taking any medicines on the first day as it will help to ascertain the exact symptoms of the disorder.

Also, most of the time the body can fight back mild fevers without any medicine in their initial phase.

Another good example is the menstrual phase. During the menstrual phase, Ayurveda advises that you must refrain from eating spicy, oily, and heat-creating food during the first three days of the menstrual cycle. It helps to prevent excessive bleeding and weakness.

#7: Use Food For It’s Ideal Purpose (Upyogsanstha)

Let us assume that you have good food, well-cooked and in the right amount, available at the right time. But there is yet another factor that can help to make it even better – the right usage.

For example, if you have natural ripened organic mango juice and excellent quality milk, then how should you use it for the best results? Ayurveda says that you should eat the mango juice first and then drink warm milk after eating mango for best digestion. This is a better way to use these foods than the mango shake!

Another example includes banana and green cardamom. According to traditional belief, eating green cardamom after banana helps to enhance the absorption of the banana nutrients!

chefs cutting vegetables

#8: Consumer (Upyokta)

Last but not least is the consumer, or the Upyokta. You may wonder why this factor is not the first one! After all the stress Ayurveda places on the body types.

This is because some foods are good for everyone when used carefully. Besides, no one eats alone all the time. So, the appropriate cooking, combination, and other general factors are more important for the general good.

However, Upyokta or the user is also extremely important. Here are some of the crucial factors that matter:

The Mind

Ayurveda says that the mind plays a huge role in the overall well-being of an individual. Thus, your state of mind plays a huge role while eating.

Modern science talks about sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. The sympathetic system is the fight-flight-fright mode that prepares the body for emergency situations. Whereas, the body gets relaxed in the soothing parasympathetic mode. Therefore, the parasympathetic mode is also called the rest and repair mode or the feed and breed mode.

The sympathetic mode takes away the blood supply from the vital systems like the digestive and the excretory system and redirects it to the muscles. So, if you are stressed, you will have constricted intestines, unprepared to digest and absorb!

Hence, Ayurveda strictly advises you to refrain from eating anything when you have stress, fear, anger, or any other negative emotion. What is the benefit after all? You will not absorb the nutrients properly. In fact, such food may create hormonal imbalance and toxins inside the body.

Therefore, the meal time prayer plays a huge role, probably more important than the food itself. Heartfelt gratitude for the food brings deep relaxation and a sense of security. This is what you need to kick-start the rest and repair mode – The parasympathetic system!

a table full of mexican food

The Body Type

The three body types – Vata, Pitta and Kapha – are the fundamental concepts of Ayurveda. These doshas or metabolic patterns form the Ayurvedic body types. And each body type has unique dietary and lifestyle requirements.

For example – if you are a Vata type person, oily food may be good for you. But the same food will bring health problems for a Kapha person.

The Phase of Life

Ayurved defines three phases of life –

  • The Kapha dominant phase of childhood
  • The Pitta dominant phase of youth
  • The Vata dominant phase of old age

The ideal Ayurveda food and lifestyle differ for all these phases. For example, an excess of cold, heavy, and oily food for very small children may lead to frequent colds and coughs. Whereas, these are the ideal foods for youth with general pitta dominance.

katsu curry, edamame beans and rice on a table

The Health Condition

Another very important factor is the current health condition of the person. For example, youth can eat a good amount of food, as pitta dominance in youth brings excellent digestion. But, if you are suffering from indigestion, you must avoid eating heavy and oily food, even if you are a young adult.

To Conclude

There are lots of factors that may affect your health. But always remember that food cooked with lots of love and care is the best and the most nutritious.

And when you eat something with a sense of peace, happiness, and gratitude, such food naturally blesses your body with good health and long life.

So, start with mindful eating with a sense of gratitude. And gradually, you will see that all other factors will automatically fall in place one by one!

More On Ayurveda

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Dr. Kanika Verma

Dr. Kanika Verma

Dr. Kanika Verma is an Ayurveda physician from India, with 10 years of Ayurveda practice. She specializes in Ritucharya consultation (Ayurvedic Preventive seasonal therapy) and Satvavjay (Ayurvedic mental health management), with more than 10 years of experience.

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